Friday, December 14, 2012
The legends of giants and giantesses, in Great Britain
The legends of giants and giantesses, so numerous in Great Britain, are equally associated with rocky mountain-passes, or the boulders they were supposed to have tossed thence when sportively stoning each other. They are the Tor of the South and Ben of the North. The hills of Ross-shire in Scotland are mythological monuments of Cailliachmore, great woman, who, while carrying a pannier filled with earth and stones on her back, paused for a moment on a level spot, now the site of Ben-Vaishard, when the bottom of the pannier gave way, forming the hills. The recurrence of the names Gog and Magog in Scotland suggests that in mountainous regions the demons were especially derived from the hordes of robbers and savages, among whom, in their uncultivable hills, the ploughshare could never conquer the spear and club. Richard Doyle enriched the first Exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery in London, 1877, with many beautiful pictures inspired by European Folklore. They were a pretty garniture for the cemetery of dead religions. The witch once seen on her broom departing from the high crags of Cuhillan, cheered by her faithful dwarf, is no longer unlovely as in the days when she was burned by proxy in some poor human hag; obedient to art—a more potent wand than her own—she reascends to the clouds from which she was borne, and is hardly distinguishable from them. Slowly man came to learn with the poet—
It was the mountain streams that fed
The fair green plain’s amenities.13
Then the giants became fairies, and not a few of these wore at last the mantles of saints. A similar process has been undergone by another subject, which finds its pretty epitaph in the artist’s treatment. We saw in two pictures the Dame Blanche of Normandy, lurking in the ravine beside a stream under the dusk, awaiting yon rustic wood-cutter who is presently horizontal in the air in that mad dance, after which he will be found exhausted. As her mountain-sister is faintly shaped out of the clouds that cap Cuhillan, this one is an imaginative outgrowth of the twilight shadows, the silvery glintings of moving clouds mirrored in pools, and her tresses are long luxuriant grasses. She is of a sisterhood which passes by hardly perceptible gradations into others, elsewhere described—the creations of Illusion and Night. She is not altogether one of these, however, but a type of more direct danger—the peril of fords, torrents, thickets, marshes, and treacherous pools, which may seem shallow, but are deep.